Mapping the Oratory of Frederick Douglass

Olivia MacIsaac, Butler University
Peter Harrah, Indiana University - Purdue University, Indianapolis
David Lewis, Indiana University - Purdue University, Indianapolis
Lynette Taylor, Indiana University - Purdue University, Indianapolis
LeAnn West, Indiana University - Purdue University, Indianapolis
Matthew Young, Indiana University - Purdue University, Indianapolis


This project is a multidisciplinary study of Douglass’s speaking tours throughout his long public career as an abolitionist, human rights advocate, and politician. For this initial phase, our primary aim was data collection for which our research team sampled a single year from each of the six decades from the 1840s to the 1890s. This was the time period in which well-known runaway slave and civil rights leader Frederick Douglass toured the United States and Europe. The purpose of this study is to develop a spatial representation of the itinerary of Douglass’s speaking-related travels. This will not only enable us to have a clearer conception of Douglass’s daily life, but will also provide insight into the changing daily lives and hardships faced by African-Americans during the Pre-Civil War era, the Reconstruction era, and the decades after troops were withdrawn from the South. This project was accomplished through the practices established by digital humanities scholars entailing the collection of data from a wide variety of sources and identifying pertinent information including the sponsoring organization, audience composition, place features, media coverage, speech topic, and mode of travel. Once the data was collected, we encoded the information to create the visual spatial representation of our research on a digital map. The ability to analyze this geographic data through interactive queries by GIS software will allow not only us but also future researchers and scholars, to determine significant spatial patterns in Douglass’s oratory as well as changes in those patterns from decade to decade.